Yoshida Hiroshi (吉田博 1876-1950) was born Ueda Hiroshi, the second son of a former samurai. He took the surname of his adoptive father and public school art teacher, Yoshida Kasaburô. For two years (1893-95) Hiroshi studied Western-style painting in Kyoto with Tamura Sôritsu (1846-1918), his teacher's teacher, and continued his apprenticeship in that vein in Tokyo with Koyama Shôtarô (1857-1916). Yoshida first exhibited oil paintings in 1898, and won a cash prize for his first exhibition at the Detroit Museum of Art. The following year he traveled to the U.S., using the proceeds there from the sales of his Western-style watercolors to pay for his trip. He worked briefly with the publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô in 1920-22, but then traveled to the U.S. for a third time in 1923-25, when he visited Yosemite National Park and sketched the majestic El Capitan. When he returned to Japan, Yoshida established his own printmaking workshop, taking an entrepreneurial approach in marketing his works while maintaining very high standards of printmaking.
In the view of some scholars and critics, Yoshida Hiroshi applied a hybrid methodology for his printmaking, one that fell somewhere between neo-ukiyo-e Shin hanga ("new prints": 新版画), made with the traditional division of labor (artist, sketch copyist, block carver, printer, and publisher), and Sôsaku hanga ("creative prints": 創作版画), for which the artist was responsible, at least in principle, for all facets of print production. In a few instances Yoshida carved his own blocks and did the printing, but for the most part he employed highly trained printers and carvers, while always supervising and controlling the printmaking process from start to finish. During his long career he produced 259 print designs, as well as numerous watercolors, paintings, and drawings.
The significance of Yoshida's Jizuri-e (自摺) Seal: The "self-printed" seals appearing on impressions of Yoshida's prints are universally accepted as imprimateurs of lifetime authenticity and high quality. However, this "stamp of approval" is rarely indicative of Yoshida's actually printing the work. True, he was very accomplished at both block carving and printing, and he considered having these skills prerequisite for effectively supervising his artisans and guiding them toward achieving the results he demanded. In regard to carving the blocks, Yoshida cut only fifteen of his designs, otherwise delegating the remainder to two artisans — Yamagishi Kazue for some early prints, and Maeda Yûjirô for the remaining works. As for his printers, Yoshida employed various professionals over the years. Thus, the presence of a jizuri-e seal should not be taken as evidence that Yoshida actually printed the impression himself; rather, it signaled his sanctioning the impression as superior in rendering keyblock line, color, and multiblock registration, and thereby worthy of his signature. Moreover, if an impression includes an English-style signature ("Hiroshi Yoshida"), it should be in pencil, not stamped in graphite facsimile as are the numerous posthumous printings.
Grand Canyon was based on a large (40.8 x 60.8 cm) watercolor Yoshida painted in 1924 during his third trip to the U.S. It was during this sojourn that Yoshida realized just how popular Japanese prints were outside of Japan, and it inspired him to establish his own printmaking business. The six prints in the United States series (Honolulu Aquarium; El Capitan; Grand Canyon; Niagara Falls; Mt. Rainier; Lake Moraine) — the ninth through the fourteenth works in his oeuvre — were the first designs Yoshida made in his own Tokyo studio after he separated from Watanabe Shôsaburô, the great shin hanga impresario who had published and sold Yoshida's first eight designs. The blocks for Grand Canyon were carved by Maeda Yûjirô.
The iconic canyon, a holy site to the Pueblo, was carved out by the Colorado River beginning five to six million years ago. As a result, the exposed strata present a stunning visual record of geological time along its 277-mile length, 18-mile width, and one-mile depth. Naturally, not only have countless tourists visited the canyon, but many artists have found inspiration at the site. Yoshida's print is a remarkable study of form, color, and light that combine to make the Grand Canyon a spectacular natural vista. Unsurprisingly, this image is highly sought after by collectors and curators.
- Ogura Tadao et al., The Complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida Hiroshi (xxx). Abe Shuichi, 1987, p. 39, no. 11.
- Laura Allen, et al., A Japanese Legacy: Four Generations of Yoshida Family Artists. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002, p.44, nos. 12-13 and 30-31.
- Carolyn Putney (curator), et al., Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints. Toledo Museum of Art, 2013, p. 243, no. 223.
- There are many books and websites with information about Yoshida Hiroshida, as well as the Shin hanga movement. Readers are encouraged to explore these sources of information.